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lasagna love: a letter to your ex

I’ve waited a long time to do this. I think about you a lot. I want to know what you think, what you felt, what you experienced. He told me on his birthday that you both made fun of me for missing key points of persona in a blog but when I went back to read the blog, I only mentioned your big brown eyes and southern charm. I’m sure this could be true, my ENFJ. I used to be you. I watch you cook wonderful meals remembering when, I, too gave a shit about the chemistry of baking. Cinnamon rolls at high altitude were a thing I just never mastered. But, I bet you would.

Why did you leave? Are my hunches right? More importantly, why did you stay? I’ve never encountered a more controlling person although I have a tendency to pick those who will create the pain I sometimes can’t muster in my thoughts. I talk to vets, PTSD sufferers…we all say the same thing. We crave the pain. We crave the fast heartbeat, the impending doom of death, a hand in ice water turning red, so red like blood that comes from my knees when I fall uphill. I know you can climb uphill, I know you climbed a mountain everyday waking up with such a volatile person.

Am I obsessed with you? Depends on how you look at it. I want validation so bad because I’ve been going crazy the past year trying to understand what the eff is wrong with me that I can’t seem to hang on. I’m told that I’m more passionate, my kisses tell him I’m into the whole thing. But, I’m forever compared to you in day to day activities. I can’t pack his shit or know what he needs for a bike ride. Your diet chart still hangs in the kitchen with a Venn diagram comparing the regiments I’m sure you supplied through constant complicated cooking and domestic endeavors. Did you get him addicted to salads? Cuz I got over that kick in my own diet adventures but slowly want to come back realizing the value of compost. If I don’t eat these greens, the worms will.

Did worms take the hard clay of your heart and make it soft? How did you soften toward him after he threatened to beat the shit out of your new boyfriend? Why do you taunt him with constant phone calls, home ownership, talk of “healthy” relationships? I don’t think that’s ever happened for either of you. That’s not a judgement but a wish that I, too, could just put up with the idiosyncrasies. The statements that make no sense at all. Whatever partnership you cultivated after marrying only 4 months into dating confounds me. What I know of healthy doesn’t fit in between the layers of the story. Did you just put straw on the top of the garden of your heart to keep warm?

It feels like triangulation and “y’all” continue to talk and talk of your new lovers, I’m sure dissecting our faults like you had to have ignored in your marriage. He talks of a friend who says you were perfect for each other and I listen suspiciously as this friends cultivates dislike for others around him and speaks of his last failed relationship in terms of nostalgia. I want to know the tiny moments that were strung together to create peace. Because, with him, my peace comes second. I hide myself from him just as I hide from you. He texts me your number and I know I will never press that 505 area code into the buttons of my too-often-checked phone. I don’t know what to say–but here at a safe distance I offer up my heart.

If I can’t leave either of you be, I’m sure you can’t leave each other be. I often wonder if marriages are feigned to avoid the ever exhausting task of keeping others interested. Well, if this friendship doesn’t work out I have something to come home to. But, why did you allow his put downs? He speaks of you as an idol and as garbage. He says he spent a year crying over the whole thing but claims he planted the seed talking of divorce. How do you keep quiet? What am I missing? I know the way I am won’t work with the way he is but can we really be that different? Are you like me and recognize your own power in the whole thing and tease him as he teases you? I’ve ended unhealthy friendships to move forward. When will you get off the sinking ship, clinging like barnacles on a boat?

I wanted to major in chemistry just like you and so I know you are intelligent. As and ENFJ I know you feel the world deeply and want to help. I wish you could have helped me by setting boundaries that let him let go of control of you. It would have been transferred to me but at least the supply would dwindle. He could just bring his Texas/Utah Instagram mirage here to get back at you but you wouldn’t keep that unhealthy tether going. Cut it off. Cut him out. Let him have his tattooed girls with words that sound pretty but a reality that would drive him crazy. You and her must like to please people a lot more than me because I think I may be despised. And, I’ll take it.

What do I really want to say? I admire your courage for staying so long. I admire you for keeping quiet about your innermost thoughts. And you both can say I’ve gotten it all wrong but I will never know. So, I make guesses. I create characters. I string together meaning through what little I know of what happened. I see that you both have stopped cycling like you used to. I have some running partners, too, and I know the connection. There’s very few who can go the brink of physical exertion and not fall off. But, that’s the thing. You fell off. Stay off. Give yourselves a fighting chance at peace and compassion so that others can fit into the layers, too.

“You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.”
― John Green

 

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a boy’s values

I had a dream last night–I was so hurt and frustrated in the dream taking my conscious feelings into subconscious dream world. I have been in Colorado a year and one day now and it’s been a year of much karmic growth and soul turmoil. My ideas of people have been challenged this year more than any other year and I’ve indavertantly pushed lots of folks out of my life to try and please one person. Last week, I started spinning out and got in a few text wars and its always the same sentiment, “Shut up about him. You are so selfish.” Cheeks red, heart racing I try to stay vulnerable but feel the callous words rise and hiss out of my mouth.

I think I am selfish and I think that’s a choice I have made. I’ve always been frightened to have children because I don’t want to repeat trans generational patterns that I uncovered in my family and marriage counseling class. I think children have an excellent way of curing any selfish tendencies. Especially in women. That child is a part of a woman’s body for months and then apart of a woman’s life for years. I take so much time sitting and thinking on my couch, laying in my bed and thinking, thinking at work. Sometimes distracted, my world is small. It’s hard for me to engage in friendships because I get bored easily, I don’t give away trust readily.

Yesterday I went to go see waterfalls and found myself nostalgic and missing last summer when I passionately kissed the man I thought I might love underneath a waterfall. The trails, the rain, the snow, the town I live in–all memories of a person and time that defied me. We stood in Wal-Mart to shop for a camping trip where I refused to apologize. He had grabbed some reusable bags from the back of his car and a boat part came bouncing out. He immediately began to lecture me on how I need to take care of his stuff. But–you dropped it. But–I don’t know your equipment. I never stay in the car or his life for more than a few days at a time and have no idea what is packed where.

“I hate your flaws, and if you don’t tell me right now that you do, too, we are done.” Ahh constant threats of abandonment triggering childhood fears and I play along and find myself wanting to be berated as I squeeze ice cubes out of a tray and watch a few dissolve in the sink. Maybe I can let it all melt away. The first panic attack happened when he brought me around his friends. Even now, as I’m ready to understand what happened I’m self-conscious because all around me are so sick of it. I am, too. But, this has become my life. I wanted to try so hard to maintain a relationship that it became my sole focus. And I want to heal. After the tightening in my chest I made the comment “your last relationship only lasted because of your stupid Christian dogma.” How does one shift their values? How does one lose faith and gain peace?

Through texts, traditions, teachings, and doctrine, religious communities and institutions convey values and belief systems to their members. These are the teachings that he had brought to Colorado and walked away from in 2012. I, too, had lost my faith but it was back in 1998 when I was so, so mad at God. It’s only been in the past five years that I’ve returned to these teachings and let these values mesh with what I learned in courses on feminism, multicultural studies, being around environmentalists, philosophers, people who see the human connection outside of the tethers of religion. I couldn’t figure out why he would treat me the way he did. Sometimes, I would go along with all of it seeing him as a strong hero in my life–my only friend who I could talk about my deep ideas with. But, it was manifested as manipulation and as I was made fun of for a trauma response I felt helpless.

Religious doctrine contains many texts and teachings that encourage domination over women. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands” (Ephesians 5.22-24 NRSV). Either by its silence or its instruction, the church has too often communicated to battered women that they should stay in abusive relationships, try to be better wives, and “forgive and forget.” To batterers, it has communicated that their efforts to control their wives or girlfriends are justified because women are to be subject to men in all things. They have been permitted to “discipline” their wives and their children all for the “good of the family.” Christian history is filled with examples of church leaders justifying abuse of women by men. Church fathers like Martin Luther unapologetically described their own physical violence towards their wives (http://www.nhcadsv.org/uploads/vaw-rolereligion.pdf)

I’ve tried to make sense and find validation through friendships but the sentiment is always “well you keep going back to him.” Yes, I do have lots of fault in the unraveling and I’ve become this nasty, negative person suspicious of anyone that exhibits passive aggressive behaviors or talks to me in a way that triggers all the insults that have been lodged at me. I have this basic belief that folks are good, that they can move toward change. I read scholarly articles on mental health and abuse and had a shift last week in which I uncover in Bancroft’s writings that abuse is not a problem of psychology but of values and beliefs. And while not overtly said each fight came back to me–I’m the problem, I’m lacking humility, my thinking and reality are altered. These are all true within the context of the relationship. I know I’m risking a lot by trying to project my views of goodness and purity onto a world that is neither all the time.

Lots of domestic violence treatment programs last up to two years. It takes so much time to shift values and beliefs. I still cling to some of my outdated beliefs perhaps surreptitiously pushed into my head as Fox News played almost constantly in my childhood home. I start to google how to change ones values and it goes back to the awareness of values in the first place. I remember a car ride in which I stopped an insult in process and asked “Why do you think its okay to say that?” It stopped the meanness in the moment but was then brought up again later after peer consultation about how its okay for women to call men <insert name here> but men don’t have the same privilege. What I took away is that as long as the peers support the subordinance of women–its okay in the belief system.

I’m planting a garden today and took a run yesterday musing on how I would plant and then I saw some deer in a yard munching on grass and suddenly realized they might eat my garden. I have little shade so the little seedlings may get sunburnt. I feel that this first experiment might clarify my values. I anticipate a successful garden but don’t want to fall apart at its failure. I’ve decided to keep the whole thing as organic as possible and wonder how hard that might be. I will layer the mulch using the “lasagna garden” technique but wonder if I ought mix up the soil instead. So many fine details pass through my mind that I start to slow down to walk as I’m running to process all the factors. This garden is a process over years, over time, to hone awareness of my own growth process. I’ve made the choice to walk away from a man whose values I don’t admire and grow what I can instead.

Do people change? Yes–they do. It’s hard work that takes practice everyday and changing a core belief can change identity. You are no less of a person if you don’t raft all the rivers, climb all the mountains, bike all the downhills, ski all the slopes, earn all your turns. But folks sure do think less of you when you are self-centered, paranoid, indecisive, a complete loadie hidden beneath the fallacy of legal disassociation. I’m apprehensive to have written again on the subject but it gives me freedom to redefine my blame. Our values are very different. Living in the same culture we’ve clung to different ideas. I embrace my faults because I’ve come to understand that integration means letting myself acknowledge dark and light in my personality. Carl Rogers has taught me only when I fully accept myself in this present moment can I move toward change. I’m not sure if I’ve already said all these things, and I very deeply want off the merry-go-round. Until then, I will love, apologize, redefine, and make sure my beliefs create the peace I crave in my life.

“As I have explained in earlier chapters, abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs. Where do a boy’s values about partner relationships come from? The sources are many. The most important ones include the family he grows up in, his neighborhood, the television he watches and books he reads, jokes he hears, messages that he receives from the toys he is given, and his most influential adult role models. His role models are important not just for which behaviors they exhibit to the boy but also for which values they teach him in words and what expectations they instill in him for the future. In sum, a boy’s values develop from the full range of his experiences within his culture.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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blue-collar sensibility

My Dad and I often fought because unlike the other kids in the house I would argue tooth and nail on principals I upheld—like I should be able to go out late because how else will I learn to make choices?  There was one particularly heated fight and I went downstairs to my room to blast whatever awful music I listened to at the time and Dad came tearing down the stairs and ripped the entire door off its hinges.  I simply glared at him over my book of poetry by Jim Morrison and said, “it was unlocked, jeez.”

Dad was the archetypal blue collar worker.  He wore one of his 3 pairs of Wranglers 30 by 32, a pocket shirt of which he had about 7, a brown worn leather belt, and generally a ball cap with some fishing logo or maybe the name of the mine he at which he worked.  He changed positions a few times working in the coal mine after starting out in a uranium mine in Douglas, WY.  He did a stint in the oil field—his father and two uncles had started “Triple B Energy” in Gillette, WY where they had learned the trade after some semesters at Texas A&M.

Uncle Joe was a self-made chemical engineer or “mud mixer” as its called in the field creating a concoction of chemicals designed to keep the walls of hundreds feet deep drill site from collapsing. Grandpa Loy was more of the talker and business man of the group, in his later life selling cars for a living showing off that Southern sweet talk and charm.  My other Great Uncle, Doyle, was less involved living in New Mexico working for NASA for the latter part of his life.  I remember him clearly, he was in a wheelchair.  When he was younger, he got polio and used plastic straws he kept in his breast pocket to type out his notes on a computer he had configured to fit his shriveled body.  I would become so angry when folks looked at him as we tooled around the southwest—he’s smart, don’t you know?!

Some 13 million Americans have managed to move from their blue-collar upbringing to a while-collar world and while class mobility seems to hearken to the American Dream and is generally applauded in the symbolic way—there are lasting consequences.  It must have been summer of my sophomore year or so and Dad and I were once again arguing on principal.  I had become more proficient at this during my college experience.  Disagreements were now an area of growth—I saw these talks as ways to try to open his mind to what I was learning at college—how to think in the grey, how to listen to all sides of a thought and use my own skills of deduction to formulate my world.  Dad became more and more frustrated and then eventually said out loud “you are wasting your time, you’ll never make as much as me.”  I had to let that statement sink in.  He might be right. But is that really why I was getting my Bachelors of Arts in English?  To make money?

My parents were able to afford to pay for my room and board the first year of college.  I lived in the dorms, Orr Hall, and still look back fondly on those years.  I met many life-long friends at the smokers bench by McIntyre Hall where we would meet before meals walking out of the cafeteria smiling with ice cream cones we would feed to the fat, tame squirrels that lived in the tall pines by Fraternity and Sorority Row.  I had managed to get a scholarship for 4 years of tuition as one of the top 5% of scholars in the state.  I hadn’t hardly applied to any colleges, much less done any scholarships.  Senior year was a time of addictions and moving in and out of my house.  This scholarship seemed like a fluke but I thought I better try it out—if nothing else than to prove my Dad wrong.

I may or may not make more than my Dad in my life—I feel myself headed there and am painfully aware of being the 10% here in Pagosa Springs—most of my friends in small business or the service industry working 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent in a place they live with several other roommates.  Then, there are the white collar retirees who the blue collar folks cater to—a nice restaurant here, $70,000 for a nice new overlook structure painting a portrait of a town that appreciates finer architecture and place where Texans might buy your art.  But, mobility here is highly unlikely.  The college nearby, Fort Lewis, has gained the name “Fort Leisure” and doles out liberal arts and education degrees with the promise of Straddler status—rising from the woods of Southwest Colorado to get a corporate job on the Front Range.  I don’t know if that even happens.  The salary may increase with education, but us blue collar folks may never speak the language of the privileged.

I feel a real sense of fragmentation sometimes.  Here I am, with my Masters of Science, which means something to me and meant something in higher education—the industry I recently vacated to try my hand at professional counseling.  I try to avoid the inevitable “when did you get to Pagosa, what do you do” talks because I feel hyper-aware of my self-imposed status.  I can hardly speak the nuances of a while collar existence but my blue collar roots seems to create suspicion as well.  I usually rely on the old geographical class mobility—oh I’m from Wyoming I’m a good ol’ boy (girl).  But I know secretly that if I comment on politics in a way that is non-polarizing—I might be shunned.  I’m not quite the liberal retiree speaking of Trumps evil, but I’m also not the conservative leaning fishing guide still obsessed with land ownership as another vehicle of hopping social classes.  An imposter in both worlds.

I didn’t walk in graduation for either my bachelors or my masters.  I didn’t know if my family would come.  And I certainly didn’t feel that they knew what I had accomplished.  From the outside, it may have looked like I spent 4 years drinking and reading poetry and then 2 years in my masters learning the language of empathy which I’m sure most homemakers like my Mom would attest is something that can be done in child-rearing.  I was the first in the family (in this generation) to achieve both degrees with a first cousin obtaining her law degree from Tulane.  We had done it.  But there are still certain things I won’t talk about if I ever were to visit Texas again and hit up the family reunion.  I won’t share my postmodern theories of classism, I won’t speak at length about racism, hegemony, or eco-feminism which I still use as a framework to view the world.  But these are the topics that set me apart and let me mingle with the white collar folks of academia. They just want brilliance and it can come from many different roots.

I think my Dad and I could argue because of the blue-collar existence.  We weren’t too worried about keeping up appearances.  I never remember one BBQ or dinner party hosted at my parents house.  My Dad has the same 3 piece suit he wore to church, weddings, funerals.  My Dad worked 12 hours shifts at the coal mine toward the end of his life, added to a 3 hour commute to get the mine 70 miles away.  When I was younger he would come home with black-coal eyeliner and his fingers dirty making me think he actually dug coal for a living.  Later, he would shower at the mine and the only evidence of hard labor was his pink-red eyes, slanted from the tiring physical work he had been doing his whole life.  A damn hard worker.  And so I still continue to work hard and grapple with my straddle status.  I have retirement, insurance, benefits.  But I still try to remember my roots and bear the load of paying for most of my education.  In theory I may have crossed social classes but in reality I will pay for my status forever.

“Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

-Alfre Lubrano, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams

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dark intellect

I have always trusted my brain.  It’s the one thing I can always count on.  I know I’m smart.  My parents thought I was smart and sent a weird red-bearded man to test my IQ in fourth grade.  I would become agitated that I was pulled out of class to be with a man who generally gave me the creeps.  He was a specialist I think, not a familiar figure in school and any interruption to my routine would distress my system but I always did what I was told.  That’s how God wanted it to be.  He asked questions about how I knew water was boiling.  Well because it bubbles, bro.  At the end of the cryptic visits I was pulled into the principal’s office.  “Jennifer, would you like to skip to 7th grade?” I was in fourth grade, about 5’9″ inches, fluffy black hair, big hips, and gigantic purple glasses.  God, no.  I’m a social pariah as is–I know that.  Please, no.

I stayed in the same grade and some of teachers didn’t feel I was living up to my potential.  My first “B” came in work ethic. Straight A’s in every other subject but more was expected of me.  I still don’t know my IQ to this day but clearly I wasn’t meeting the expectations of whatever that number proposed.  One day, the white bearded librarian came to our classroom to play a rousing game of chess against me while the entire class watched.  I wasn’t worried–Dad had taught me well and my patience and strategy didn’t quite get me to victory that day but a stale-mate that must of somehow reflected my place in the world–I was moving around my chess pieces in simultaneous offense and defense.  Smart enough to win, smart enough to not care.

Being intellectual is a gift.  I can think my way out of so many problems.  I can create a safe world in my mind and write stories of how my mind works.  I can mimic trauma in non-fiction.  I can metaphorically write about the details of my life connecting them to the bigger picture.  I see the nuances and also the bird’ eye view of life and philosophy.  I can contemplate God.  Somehow, I thought my intellect was a much stronger defense than it panned out to be.  I still have a hard time understanding some of the events that have happened in my life.   My brain was wired well enough to forget most of the bullshit.  This year my mind has turned against me and memories have come back.  Painful.  I thought I was smarter than that.

I walked into work one day and asked my co-worker who was a boxer about what happens when you get hit. I hadn’t been able to hear out of my right ear for four days.  During sex, my boyfriend had punched me so hard in the face I stopped being able to hear.  “It’s called boxers ear, Jen.  You should be fine.” This boyfriend and I were into some obscure shit.  We liked to listen to heavy metal and muse in our anti-social tendencies.  One time I lit a marijuana pipe red hot and pressed it into my thigh.  I asked him to choke me until I would almost pass out.  In the world of sex–these were not off the beaten path.  Folks have kinky sex way more often than we want to admit.  This was, for the most part, normal sexual behavior.  But, I didn’t ask him to punch me.  I didn’t know he would punch me.  He hurt me on his terms.  Weeks or months later, who knows, I ran sprinting back to my house after he had dumped me on the side of the road.  I ran and ran to get back to safety and the door came swinging open.  He would always find me.

My Dad died in 2008 and it fucked me up really bad.  I choose the words I am saying and fucked up isn’t strong enough.  My world imploded.  My true north ceased to exist.  I shacked up with a guy who’s name I can’t even remember.  I didn’t even remember he existed until this year.  Back in the college days of drinking and debauchery bars would often make special glasses for mixed shots–i.e. like a Jager bomb.  Plastic shot contained within a glass where Jager would go and then surrounded by Red Bull.  I don’t know how it all went down but I remember my nose and mouth being covered by the giant hand of some strong iron-worker from Arkansas as he watched my eyes turn red.  Before I passed out I smashed the pink plastic cup into the side of his head and felt the small plastic bits crumble in my hand.  Goddamnit, I was going to survive. I fell asleep next to him on an air mattress that night waiting for my inevitable arrest because he had choked me out again while I was driving a few days before.  Third DUI, second violent relationship.  Where the fuck was my brain.  How could someone so smart be so stupid.

This summer I met a very nice guy with whom I felt very connected.  He was long and lean and didn’t mind my quirks and didn’t seem to want to humiliate me during sex or choke me for no reason.  I am so desperate for love that I crave any attention with someone who sees my brain.  He saw and appreciated my intelligence and I felt we could play chess and talk of our family dynamics forever.  I attach to folks so strongly, without a daddy.  Without any role-models of healthy relationships.  He became my world as I had moved from my home in Wyoming where folks didn’t care I was burned, kicked, punched, choked probably because I had forgotten any of it had happened.  I was called Crazy Jen for so long I figured that’s what bitches like me deserve.  Shit talking.  Dirty looks.  Sometimes, the crazy went in my favor and back in the day I would get free drugs as long as I did them intravenously in front of the dealer.  See me fucked up.  See me with no brain.

All these memories came back in a hotel room in Canon City, Colorado.  “You are so fucking damaged, Jen.  I feel sorry for you.”  Ahh shit.  He was right.  I was damaged.  I didn’t remember those events that had happened.  But I deserved them, right?  I lashed out in anger when I was attacked.  When I was told that I wasn’t going to be in someone’s life because they didn’t want to have a “crazy girlfriend” I knew they were right.  I made someone burn me.  Punch me.  Choke me.  My crazy brought about violence in others.  I was playing this game of chess to the best of my ability and I was letting folks down. That fourth grade class of blank eyes stared at me and watched me falter with every move.   My work ethic was a “C” at best.  I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I was being lazy and smart and should be in the 9039320th grade of relationships, not the second grade running away every time I was called a stupid bitch.

This is what is so hard.  I’m smart.  I’m kind.  I’m a counselor.  I was a victim’s advocate for years.  But, these things still happened.  I still let into my life 3 very violent men who intimidated me.  Who physically abused me.  Who emotionally degraded me.  Yet I still see this as my fault.  I know I’m mean and cruel but I know what has happened to me.  I didn’t make it up but that’s also shady to me as well.  How could someone forget being punched, burned, kicked, and choked?  How could someone with so much sense end up in hotel room after hotel room being told what a horrible piece of shit I am?  How could someone who had been to the emergency room several times with sexually assaulted women end up in the snow one snowy night in February 2017 shaky and scared calling the police to please, please don’t come out because in Colorado in domestic violence calls, an arrest is mandatory?

I am doing the very best I can.  I just submitted a $960 bill for therapy starting in January before that cold February night when I remembered some childhood beatings that I still doubt. Because I trust my brain.  This brain has gotten me scholarships, offers to skip grade levels, exemplary marks on standardized tests, its reasoned its ways out of these places.  I still don’t know if I believe any of this was abuse.  I’m just a strong-headed, weird, negative, and perhaps hard-to-love person.  If I was sweet and kind in spirit as I feel in my mind then I would stop this cycle.  The only thing I want today is to call any one of these men to come over and embrace me and then tell me what a fuck up I am.  Yes, yes, second in words what I feel in thought.  I am fucking retarded, I am too much to handle, I am not worthy of a faithful man or of someone to sleep next to at night.  My brain has been hard-wired for torture.  Whether it be self-torture of this entire blog or of the words of any man who I’ve held dear telling me of my inherent worthlessness.  I think, I feel, my brain can no longer be trusted.  That knot in my stomach was right.  My sweaty palms, my hunched back.  My body knew what was about to happen.  But how could I leave the very thing that helped me to survive?  I can leave these men but how can I leave my mind?

I played chess the other day and struggled hard to explain how it’s played.  It’s through tact.  Foresight.  Observation.  Strategy.  Patience.  Willingness.  I think I can say I have been a victim of abuse.  But I won’t leave that statement at just that.  I have been a victim of my own mind thinking I was exempt from shitty relationships.  I am a strong woman with strong trauma and these two do not want to tango.  I received minimal support in this last abusive relationship and am pretty sure I was seen as the problem.  I get nasty in intimacy because intimacy means I will get fucked up.  So I give myself some grace.  But I have very little grace for how I acted in defense of my well-being.  I am still trying to live down some ruined relationships as I existed in months being told how I was the cause of any problem that happened in my life or in his life. So, I write this shit down to let it go.

I think I can trust my brain again.  Its thinking in terms of case conceptualization and in clinical terms to help my clients.  If I look to my own case I see many trauma responses.  I see a childhood of dysregulated emotions and an adolescence of numbing and substance abuse that stunted my emotional growth.  I see a 7th grader who really should be in 4th grade and is doing her best to fake it until she makes it.  Those things did happen.  And this time I will not let my mind forget.  I will nurture my mind to connect to my body and feel the violence before it happens.  I might not ever say out loud I was abused.  But I will write it down and think on what could be different.  Who I can choose next.  And eventually I will find the peace I need to once again feel proud of my brain.  The body part that just might save me, the organ that fires even when I’m asleep.  I am smart.  I am alive.  I have survived.

“Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out?
Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you?
Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did?
Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you?
Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you?
Has he ever threatened to hurt you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he’ll ever be violent; he already has been.”

― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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in the middle of the night

I was going to blog about Lou Dog but I’ve written so many stories about him as the protagonist, all nonfiction because that damn dog saved my life.  I’m falling asleep early lately and waking up in the early morning/very late night and liking the pattern of observing others from afar while I know they sleep and heal and dream of whatever needs integrated, whatever needs attention.  While they sleep, I reflect.  I sink into sadness, I sink into playfulness, I write, I dance, I social media like a bad habit, I take baths.  In my watching from afar and in my folding back into myself I’m starting to feel more clear, confident, concise.  I’m starting to understand, at least for myself, the unraveling of me and maybe how to approach intimacy next time.  The edge, the place I seek, is where I individuate, stand in myself, keep a clear confident head, even in the arms and heart of another, the canyons and peaks of a new geographical area, the thick air of my dark thoughts.

I’ve been quietly studying for the National Counselor Exam, experiencing significant distress in the section on children and attachment.  I make comments here and there in my new office where I share a space with two other child welfare case workers and while they work on active cases I feel my eyes blur and stomach hurt as I move through childhood trauma in reading and memory. Replicating a feeling in graduate school, in the fraternity and sorority life office in the basement of the University of Wyoming where so much change occurred, so many memories and emotions sifted through like cake flour.  I would sit listening to conversations about Greek Week, reading and taking in concepts of moving toward and away and fearful-avoidant attachments.  Oh my god its me.  But I need to remember now as then, we were all secretly diagnosing ourselves and each other.  I know now—humanistic, client-centered, and existential—I don’t have to diagnose clients in a way that will harm them and I can collaboratively diagnose, if I diagnose at all.

Now, as then, I move through my feelings on attachment disorders, my potential attachment disorder, and its bearing on my last relationship.  And then I smile quietly because I know if this is the case, I’ve made relationships with secure individuals and sometimes to tell the truth to others doesn’t keep things easy and brings about more bitter truth I’m not keen on hearing, either.  I feel especially aware of anything I’ve failed at in my life and even stop writing to think of my best friend in Texas and how I’m missing out on the life of her child because I feel I can’t get well.  I create this unwell person around her because she has always been the sage and my substance abuse affected her and others.  I’ve apologized, maybe its time for action.  I can only do so much to make it right and then we have a leap of faith.  And I keep working or we grow apart.  We grow apart as I grow further and further from any suburban lifestyle whether I like it or not, and whether she does either—I do not know. I feel all the separation and loss of my father, my best friend, my lover, my dog.  It’s important to move through the negativity, the loss, the grief.  Branches can only grow as high as roots grow deep.  Nothing is ever good or bad, only thinking makes it so.

I pass the National Counselor Exam, and complete week one of my training.  I knew I would pass the exam because it’s my life’s work.  I’ve been taking standardized tests and studying my entire life.  I’m proficient. To be in that place of mastery feels good.  In the training I become heated during a discussion and find myself vindicated when I’m right.  Here’s where the work lies—I’ve got some good shit to say but I can be kind, confident, and clear when I say it. I can read the books, and remember my theory of change and conceptualize all my relationships and my own mental illness or lack thereof, and unpack how I create all my own problems.  We have a choice in any moment how we will respond to ourselves and others.  Breathe in, breathe out, and in that tiny catch in between I have time to cultivate my awareness to be mindful of my language—say only that which will truly help the other person or myself.   I know the pendulum still swings back and forth in the realm of attachment but I do not apologize for feeling things deeply but do feel regret for clinging to the deepness longer than the present moment.  Sometimes, there are lessons and goals to be pulled from experiences, but who I am doesn’t give a shit about lessons or goals, but cares:  how are we?  how am I?   how is this universe?  Right here, right now.

“We must exist right here, right now!”

–Shunryu Suzuki

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high plains, high desert

The sky here in Alamosa, Colorado can sometimes feel so incredibly close yet so large, a giant glass fishbowl full of bushy desert plants and fine sand swirling around, piling at the bottom of a mountain.  Mountains are in all directions, optical illusions creating some to appear small as they curl their bottom lip of switchbacks and raise high eyebrows full of summits and passes treacherous in winter as snow that never sees the valley beats down on the chest of the high places.

 

The bowl of the San Luis Valley becomes soaked as irrigation and veins of water fed by the Rio Grande collect snow of mountain tops becoming all but dry in summer.  Rain becomes a welcome sign that miracles can happen in the desert and rainbows can form amidst the backdrop of peaks and valleys of Mount Blanca. The landscape and sense of place could keep me here for years as I begin to understand weather patterns and hear from the folks how the weather fits into their lives.

 

I don’t really know why I left Wyoming.  I know why I left Gillette–to go to college.  And I supposed I left Laramie for the same reason–to go to a different college.  I went looking for opportunity and here I found diversity in the short time I have been here. I become aware of myself as I observe my surroundings to try to understand how to be serve, really how to best empower those around me to serve themselves. I do not know what is best for those in the valley and it’s nice to become learner once again.

 

Some things change and some remain the same.  I travel with lavender oil and rub it on the foreheads of Coloradoans now and I teach yoga to students at this college campus.  I wonder about the prospect of taking the mobile model of yoga I started in Wyoming and try it out here.  How can I weave in the fabric of place through the stories of the people?  I suppose I can start by leaving the house.  I plan trips to trails and dream of backpacking trips up fourteeners but feel some tiny bit of flesh and bone is terrified while the spirit is bold and so I remain cautious.

 

I heard someone talk about the religious or spiritual connotations of the San Luis Valley.  Every religious figure or prophet spent some amount of time thinking about stuff in the desert.  The mountains provide a prompt to think about stuff in the desert and to slow down.  The fishbowl of the valley allows for integration in twenty minute intervals toward towns spreading out like petals from the Alamosa center.  I have arrived.  And will be here now in the high desert of Colorado nodding my head to the high plains of Wyoming.

 

“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”

 

-Terry Pratchett, Jingo

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turning of the canyon walls

I’ve been waiting to write in my blog about all the things I’ve felt as I move to Colorado after 32 years in Wyoming.  16 in Gillette and 16 in Laramie, half grown up in the belly of coal country, half deconstructed in the belly of precambrian granite and feldspar crystals.  Every part of the journey brought huge questioning and regret.  I said goodbye to my best friends—the few friends I had let in during the 16 years of trying to reinvent myself.  And now I reinvent myself in the San Luis Valley.

I moved here for many reasons which bring about all the reasons I had stayed in Laramie.  I’ve run into a few folks here and they always say the same type of stuff—oh it’s not for everyone here.  They say its isolated.  Nothing to do.  I’ve become the patriotic Wyomingite, talking about how Alamosa is Laramie moved south six hours.  Yes, Laramie was three times as big but I make my life very small.  I hear I may get bored in winter and I think of my writing, reading, or yoga—I know I won’t get bored just cold in the arid winters of the high desert.

I climbed part of Mount Blanca yesterday and am starting to realize what Colorado might mean.  Mountains are bigger.  Instead of my hour jaunt around Pole Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest, I now embark on hours long journeys I stop in the middle because it’s becoming clear I will not make these 18 miles.  Plans begin to be made—have I become the lusty adventurer going after 14’ers?  They are just where we all start—I want to become immersed in the microsystems as well. I want to find the desert parts of this place, to run in the greasewood and think about spiritual shit.

I think that’s why I came here—spiritual shit.  Not to seek the Ram Dass ashram just down the way in New Mexico or attend the Course in Miracles group I found in the local gazette—but to take a leap of faith.  To let go of the narrative that I’m a fifth generation Wyomingite, that my blood runs with the buffalo, that my soulmate is in the aspens of Happy Jack.   Turns out aspens are here, too. I’ve not felt that connection yet but I know the petals of my heart will peel and shake away as I uncross my hands from my heart and let the wind of the valley sweep things clean.

“Life is too short for grief. Or regret. Or bullshit.”

-Ed Abbey

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wal-mart yoga

I ran into a friend last night and a few folks knew me from my work teaching yoga. I was able to talk out loud a bit about how I see western yoga as cultural appropriation and perpetuating classism, racism, ableism, extroversion, hegemony, and all other sorts of atrocities that we silently ignore in the modern American caste system.

Let me clear this up before I dive into an opinion piece: I do teach yoga. I do teach meditation. I call myself the “Wal-Mart of Meditation” for a reason. Yeah Wal-Mart is messed up, but I don’t have the privilege NOT to shop there. Most folks I know don’t. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am very particular about where I teach, who I teach for, and how I teach. In the 4 years I’ve dived into this spiritual realm, I’ve learned a few things about myself and yoga.

The first is—I doubt I will ever teach at a boutique brick and mortar studio again. I’m not a business person, hardly a capitalist, and would not ask others to do what I cannot do myself. I cannot afford an $18 yoga class. In 2009 when I got out of jail after several DUI’s, I had nothing. Some fellah at the soup kitchen gave me $20. The last thing I was going to do with that money was walk over to a studio to be confused by Sanskrit, incense, and a person who is trying to tell me everything is love and light. Bullshit. I just got out of jail and have no home. Life will never be all love and light so we can all surrender that fantasy.

Secondly, I hope to always teach at a community college. In my years of teaching I have NEVER encountered a person of color in a brick and mortar studio outside of one instructor and one teacher in training—both privileged socioeconomically. In my classes at the community college, I’ve had men and women of color, non-english speaking folks, folks with disabilities, folks struggling with obesity, children, teenagers, deaf and hard of hearing folks, folks who I let in because they could not pay, felons, drug-users—you name the area of marginalization and I’ve been able to recruit at least one person to try it out.

Before I prepare my speech for social justice lady-face of the year, let me relate that I, too, am a part of the appropriation of yoga. I am in the space of privilege. I am the subject that relates to the object of yoga. I’ve bastardized the heck out of yoga (i.e. Walmart Meditation) I’ve copied elements from a minority culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

I do not take communion in a Catholic church. I do not attend Mormon seminary. I do not pray with Muslims. Why do I think it’s okay to teach yoga when I know nothing of Hinduism? Because—it’s all I’ve got. I want to show folks that the light exists so they can choose their lamp. I know I do not know the right way to do anything because the only right way is the authentic way in one’s own skin. That will look different for everyone.

I can reduce the harm be being aware of the roots of the practice, and giving credit where credit is due. I can respect and honor the religion of Hindu and the Eight-Limbed Path by shutting the fuck up when I enter a sacred space. I can become more sensitive to myself and others through intentional practice. I will have to practice my whole life because it will not end with a headstand, heck, it won’t even end in this life. It is important we understand what yoga is and why it was created so we can honor the practice, others, and ourselves.

“Do your practice and all is coming.”

― Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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i close my eyes. i close them again.

I close my eyes. I close them again. Again. And again. Until the gaze is completely inward. There lies the work. There lies accountability. Instead of blaming the oppressive paradigm of society or of being misunderstood because of my education, I take accountability.

When I look inward I am able to face the demons of what I might not want to know about myself. I am controlling. I am pretentious. I am insecure. I stay after the class I teach at the local community college to answer questions about children and psychology. The parent always knows best. Each family situation is so different. I begin to realize with ruddy cheeks that I have not given this space in my own personal life. I thought I knew best. And now I know the value of of patience and acceptance.

I look inward and realize I still do not love myself enough to receive unconditional love from another. My value is still intermixed with other factors that are changeable and dynamic like my sense of self.  As long as I continue to rely on outside sources for a false sense of control I will be fragmented. And now I am alone and see that I co-create all of my experiences and until I create love and compassion for myself I will not create it for others. Instead of being so mystic about it all it boils down to folks likening to be around someone who has a sense of self that doesn’t require too much work on their part. A steady energetic presence.

I lie. I lie about how I self soothe and I lie to others to avoid always feeling so awkward. I tell my story to thousands of people.  The truth is not always wanted or needed, though, and I can’t seem to get the love and affection of one. Today instead of overanalyzing my actions in a freezing bathroom with singing malfunctioning pipes I ought just let some sleeping dogs lie.  Because I’ve beat this dead horse into the ground. 

“I close my eyes in order to see.” —Paul Gauguin

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the lies we tell

So, I’m single.  I’ve been in some committed relationships but I messed those up just like I tend to do with things of an intimate nature.  I don’t know how to shut up.  I don’t know how to keep things to myself.  I don’t know how to always keep the peace.  But I love these things about myself.  I am authentic. I am genuine.  I am Jen.

I cried the other day, the chest collapsing, stomach folding, breath catching tears because I realized I am simple and I am like everyone else.  I want to be loved. I just want to be the love of someone’s life.  Or one of the loves of someone’s life.  I want to at least be an important part of someone’s life.  I want to be worth the risk for someone.  I want someone to tolerate the anxiety of growth, of riding a huge wave of uncertainty.  I think I am worth it.  But I always question this and retreat back into my salty, crusty, self.

I will lie about some things.  I will pretend to be happy for someone because my real feelings aren’t appreciated.  I become so frustrated with the lies that people live to be part of the status quo, to be perceived as hip and contemporary, as totally normal yet edgy.  The marriage. The house. The car. The child, or children.  The investments. The 401k.  Store treasures in heaven, I say.  Store them in the heart.  Because we all die alone with nothing.  An inheritance is just sentimental perceived power.

I am poor in terms of American capital.  I have what could be perceived a middle class salary but I’m a product of a generation ridden by debt, paying tens of thousands of dollars for degrees that are marginalized daily.  I’ve been accused of spouting psycho-babble if I discuss theories of change.  I’ve been told I could never fully understand how to work with children because I am not a parent.  I still try to defend myself.  To what end?  I have stopped practicing clinical counseling because I don’t know if people change.  I don’t talk about books despite having a degree in English.  I am rich in my mind and heart but no one wants that currency.

I thought I had changed at one point but really I feel I floundered from who I was and then came back to the same person who would argue with teachers on principle, share my faith and religion to others with bravery and compassion, work hard and play hard.  I used to say I was like black licorice and hard to handle.  Why do I have to take on others insecurities because I stir up shit for others?  It’s exhausting being called a strong woman, which as all feminists know is a cover up for bitch.

I feel self-involved for writing this.  I am feeling spiteful today.  Yet, as I run to contemplate and meditate, I realize the world owes me nothing.  Folks may not love me.  It’s my job to love myself in order to create a loveable person.  I certainly do have some pathological tendencies.  I could be called a narcissist.  I have created the life I want.  I am a teacher. I am a writer. I am a friend.  And I can tell you even without the house, the car, the husband, the kid, the 401k, my legacy will last far into the future.

Folks don’t remember the quiet, well-behaved individuals who they have come across, just as they don’t remember the boring paintings in the dentist’s office.  What is remembered is the art that moves, the art that disturbs, the art that pushes buttons.  My life is a painting and with each stroke I will offend, I will repel, I will love, I will welcome, I will be.  And it’s the choice of others to love me, and it’s a choice I have already made for myself.  Salty, crusty, and loveable.

We tell lies when we are afraid… afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.

-Tad Williams